CAIRO, Egypt, AP -Al-Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a videotape aired Friday that the United States’ decision to withdraw some troops from Iraq represented “the victory of Islam” and called on Muslims to attack oil sites.
Al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban and gray robe and seated next to an automatic rifle, waved his finger for emphasis as he spoke in the two-minute excerpt aired by Al-Jazeera.
“I congratulate (the Islamic nation) for the victory of Islam in Iraq,” he said.
Al-Zawahri apparently was referring to comments last month by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said President Bush had authorized new troop cuts below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of last year.
Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the cut, but the Pentagon said the reductions would be about 7,000 troops, about the size of two combat brigades. The Pentagon has not announced a timetable for the reductions, but indications are that the force could be cut significantly by the end of this year.
“You remember I told you more than a year ago that the American withdrawal from Iraq is only a matter of time, and here they are now … negotiating with the mujahedeen,” al-Zawahri said.
“Bush was forced at the end of last year to announce that he will pull out his forces from Iraq, but he was giving excuses for his withdrawal that the Iraqi forces have reached a good level.”
Bush has not offered concrete details about bringing troops home but said Wednesday that “possible adjustments” would be discussed with Iraqi leaders if progress continued on security and political efforts.
A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy, said that while the video appears to be authentic, it has not been determined with certainty that it is al-Zawahri.
However, officials often note that no message has ever been fraudulently attributed to al-Qaeda’s leadership.
Al-Zawahri said the American forces “with their planes, missiles, tanks and fleets are mourning and bleeding, seeking for a getaway from Iraq.”
“Regarding your withdrawal timetable … you have to admit, Bush, that you have been defeated in Iraq and are being defeated in Afghanistan and will be defeated in Palestine,” he said.
In comments quoted on Al-Jazeera’s Web site but not yet broadcast, al-Zawahri urged supporters to attack oil sites in Muslim countries.
“I call on mujahedeen to focus their attacks on Muslims’ embezzled oil. Most of its revenues go to the enemies of Islam; meanwhile most of what is left is taken by the thieves who are ruling our countries,” he said.
Al-Jazeera said the videotape was dated from December but gave no specific date. Network spokesman Ayman Gaballah said the tape, about 20 minutes long, was acquired through “a special source,” but he would not elaborate. More excerpts were expected to be aired later Friday.
In the videotape, the terror leader, an Egyptian, criticized Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for its participation in last year’s parliamentary elections, saying they were “duped, provoked and used” by America, who he said controlled the polls.
“My Muslim nation, you will not enjoy free elections, protected sanctity, governments which are being called to account by the people and a respectable judiciary unless you are free from the crusader-Zionist occupation and the corrupted governments, and this will not be fulfilled but with Jihad,” he said.
Al-Zawahri claimed al-Qaeda was growing and that Bush’s claims that the group was nearly destroyed were “nonsense merely in his own head.”
“We want to tell all the Muslims that the mujahedeen al-Qaeda, thank God, is expanding and increasing in strength.”
The last videotape from al-Zawahri aired by Al-Jazeera in October, called on Muslims to aid victims of the massive earthquake in Pakistan.
In Friday’s tape, he said: “If I was comforting the Islam nation for its crisis of Pakistan’s earthquake, I today congratulate it and bless the Islamic victory in Iraq.”